Vietnamese Visa Adventure in Hanoi

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January 28th 2011
Published: February 4th 2011
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Seoul Incheon > Hanoi Noibai

oh geeze, the map says i came from north korea. i don't know how to change it. just imagine the line comes from south korea.

Starcraft = Korean AirStarcraft = Korean AirStarcraft = Korean Air

I already posted this photo, Koreans love their Starcraft comic-book painted Boeing 747's.

Hanoi Noibai Airport

I've been in Hanoi since last Friday, today is Thursday, February 3rd, the first day of the new lunar year. My time here has been very eye-opening, relaxing and generally amazing. Hanoi is such a hustle-and-bustle city that I haven't had a chance to sit down and create a new post about my time here! The first day of the year is usually spent quietly, at home, and the city is completely shut down, which is a welcome change from the usual cacophony of car horns, roosters, people yelling, traffic and communist propaganda over loudspeakers. Seriously, as if there wasn't enough noise, the government feels the need to broadcast public service announcements over loudspeakers.

My flight from Korea was fairly uneventful, aside from the Vietnamese people who insisted on bringing every personal belonging they own on the plane as carry-on.

Once arriving at the airport, I'm greeted by a line of passport desks manned by forest-green and red clad military officials. The desks look ok from the outside, but the insides are scratched, dirty and generally losing their paint. I'm quick to get off the plane, so I only have to wait about 2 minutes
Airplane FoodAirplane FoodAirplane Food

Random chicken, odd fruit salad and 'bean curd with asian style sauce' Note: Airplane bean curd is not good.
in line. I've obtained a visa in advance, as per the requirements, at the embassy in Ottawa. I hand my passport to the 15 year-old looking military officer in an over-sized uniform who looks it over, checks out the visa, leans back in his chair, looks again at the visa and then decides to stand up with my passport held up high and starts yelling in Vietnamese.


Three older officers come marching over and take my passport from the 15 year old and gesture for me to follow them. They box me in and march me back to an office in the back. There's an even older man sitting at a huge oak desk inside a glassed room. I wait outside while he looks over the passport. At this point I'm thinking: communist country with military manning the airport and something is wrong with my visa, but I'm not sure what, and now I'm probably going to be arrested. What is Vietnamese prison like? Its probably still like the 'hanoi hilton' days and all I can think of is that it's going to be cold and wet, for some reason.

Aaaanyways, turns out when I gave the guy at the Ottawa embassy 15 extra dollars to process my visa right away (his idea), instead of waiting the usual week, he felt nice and gave me an extra 10 days on the visa. 30 days is the legal limit. I had 40 days. Perfect.

So they changed my visa, stamped a big 'cancelled' on the original and took up yet another whole page with the new visa sticker. By the time this process is done another flight had landed from Tokyo and there were about 600 people in line at the passport control, which I had to do again. Fantastic.

By the time I make it though there, its been 1.5 hours since I landed. I follow the sign to the baggage claim, only to find there's only one carousel, about the same size as the one in Sault Ste. Marie International Airport, or about 10 feet long. There's still 500 people hanging around. Amazing.

It turns out the baggage for the Korean Air and Japan Air is still coming out at the same time, one bag per minute. There must be only one guy moving luggage down there... So another painful hour goes
Trung's Parent's AlleyTrung's Parent's AlleyTrung's Parent's Alley

Creepy for a first-timer. Surprisingly family oriented once you get to know it.
by with fingers crossed before I see my luggage come out. I thought the Vietnamese carry on situation was bad, you should have seen some of the millions of random boxes that came out of that carousel. Apparently, its cheaper to pay the extra to bring stuff with you rather than ship it separately, so some people had about 10 pieces of luggage.

As I'm leaving customs (which didn't really exist), I see an enormous crowd of smiley Vietnamese people pushing and shoving to see who will come out of customs next. People are VERY excited and happy.

Trung is standing well back of the crazy crowd, he's got a cabby waiting outside and he hop in and head down the highway towards Hanoi.

Now, Korea was really dense, but relatively new, and the buildings were very large. Hanoi is filled with 10 foot wide, 5 storey houses, jammed into every possible space. Everything looks like it might fall over at any minute and I don't even want to consider what would happen in an earthquake situation. The 'expressway' has businesses fronting onto it selling everything under the sun. There's no traffic because its freaking 1:30am because
Trung and soupTrung and soupTrung and soup

We made it home after the airport
of the airport fiasco.

The cabby turns left onto a dark street that winds its way through a neighbourhood. It is not a straight line at all, and we go up and down and bump around for about 20 minutes before Trung yells stop in Vietnamese, and we jump out. I expected to pull up to his parent's place, or near his parent's place, but all I can see are closed up businesses and a small gas station.

We start walking down the street and turn off onto a dark, 5 foot wide alley. The alley twists and turns with only the occasional street light to guide us. A rat runs across the damp path. WTF are we?

We finally come to a gate, Trung has to put both his hands through tiny trap doors to unlock the padlock on the other side. It opens to a well manicured courtyard bordering a 4-storey art-deco house. Very, very nice. We take off our shoes outside and leave them on a clean marble tile patio outside.

The house is the same temperature as outside. The Vietnamese people live in wide-open houses that have basically shutters and simple windows.
Bia Ha NoiBia Ha NoiBia Ha Noi

A well deserved Hanoi Beer, tastes like Molson Canadian
Trung had some workers come last week to put in small HVAC systems in the bedrooms because he thought it would be too cold for me. He was right, its only 10 degrees tonight. My bed looks comfy, but its really just a rice mat on a bed fame with a nice comforter on top. Very hard sleeper 😉

Anyways, thats the account of my first night here. I'm not sure a blow-by-blow of the rest of the week is really needed, but I'll give just a breakdown of what it's like later.



4th February 2011

Sounds Amazing
Lol, I love that even the roosters take new years off and shut up. Great entry. I can totally hear your voice when you write and I feel like I'm right there with you! I look at the picture of Trung and I'm picturing you sitting across the table from Trung's overjoyed face after your 3 hour airport ordeal and wanting to strangle him. lol
4th February 2011

oh john, if you only knew!

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